It was not until the American publication of Good-bye, Mr. Chips in June, 1934, that James Hilton became a popular, successful, and critically admired author. Before that, he had written eight full-length novels, as well as a large body of topical commentary and literary criticism, but he had remained relatively unknown and unappreciated. Even Lost Horizon (1933), which was later to become one of the best-selling books of its time, was largely ignored when it first appeared. The spectacular success of Good-bye, Mr. Chips surprised the author as well as all the critics.
Because Good-bye, Mr. Chips is presented as the reminiscence of an old man, the dominant mood is that of sentimental, nostalgic reverie. Hilton adroitly maintains a fine balance between the gentle humor characteristic of Mr. Chips’s everyday life and the pathos of several sad incidents, including the death of Mr. Chips’s wife in childbirth and the many deaths among his students in war. Basing Mr. Chips on a synthesis of his own father and his favorite Latin teacher, Hilton created a character many readers recognized in their own experience. It is doubtful, however, that simple reader identification or the fact that Mr. Chips (a fond nickname for Chipping) is a clearly defined, amiable, slightly eccentric, modestly humorous man is enough to account for the novel’s enormous popularity. There is something in this figure of a man with unexceptional ability, living an ordinary life, that struck a...
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